Gabe Soumakian knows how to do his homework.
Not only does Oxnard Union High School District’s new superintendent bring 30 years of experience to the job, but he arrives prepared and ready with a “blueprint for greatness.”
He said it’s a plan for overcoming the challenges the high school district faces while focusing on the facets that already work.
The district officially welcomed Soumakian as its new superintendent at a reception on Wednesday.
Soumakian talked about his plan to put the students’ best interests first; to provide a network of support for teachers, administrators and the district staff; and to distribute the responsibilities of leadership throughout the district.
“Right now we have to get everyone focused on our mission to keep students at the center of all our conversations,” Soumakian said. “I think the biggest challenge is to get everyone to believe in the vision with all their mind, heart and soul so I don’t have to monitor if it’s being implemented. They must believe in it, own it and feel connected to it.”
To further that vision, Soumakian will work with the board of directors next month to develop the district’s core values.
He also wants to increase communication between students, parents, teachers and staff. The district website now has a superintendent’s page with regularly updated information and a link to the district’s Twitter page.
“It’s really important to communicate all the great things we’re doing at this district because we have wonderful and hardworking teachers and kids,” the superintendent said.
Soumakian, who has served in eight districts, said he’s worked in many different environments and in both high- and low-performing schools over his three decades in education.
“I’m working very hard to focus on bringing positive energy and a sense of synergy to (the entire district),” he said.
To do so, he will visit each campus before school starts on Aug. 30 to speak with teachers and staff.
“My whole mantra is building relationships with inspiring trust,” Soumakian said.
A Santa Monica native, Soumakian earned his bachelor’s degree in physical education from Cal State Northridge and his master’s in education from Azusa Pacific University. He returned to Azusa Pacific in 1997 to obtain his doctorate in educational leadership.
Soumakian started his teaching career in 1978 at Loyola High School, a private Catholic school in downtown Los Angeles. He later taught at St. John Bosco High School, also part of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles Catholic schools.
His first year in public schools was in 1992 at Temple City High School in Bellflower, Calif., where he taught a variety of subjects and coached track and field as well as football.
After 18 years of teaching, Soumakian pursued a path in administration.
“There comes a point when you want to have an impact on the entire school at an administration level,” Soumakian said. “You have a more global viewpoint of the entire campus, and you have the responsibility and accountability to ensure the school is moving forward.”
Soumakian believes every administrator should have teaching experience to effectively lead a school or district.
“I think it’s pretty difficult as an administrator to support teachers if you’ve never been in the classroom,” he said. “The (teaching) profession is demanding, and the administrator has to have knowledge, understanding and respect.”
During his 15 years in administration, Soumakian served as an assistant principal, principal, and director of human resources for the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District and assistant superintendent of human resources at Burbank Unified School District.
Soumakian spent the past six years at Burbank Unified as head of its human resources department.
The 15,000-student district is comparable in size to OUHSD, which has 16,800 students.
During his time at Burbank, Soumakian helped that district weather ongoing cuts to public education, a 2009 teacher sex scandal and the sudden death of a former superintendent in 2010.
Soumakian said those situations required additional responsibility and leadership skills. He said he learned how to effectively handle public relations in regard to sensitive and serious issues.
“The challenge is to keep the course with all the changes. Adaptive leadership is really important,” he said. “I’ve learned to address how a negative culture can affect schools.”
Soumakian plans on moving to Ventura County in the next few weeks with his wife, Patricia. They have three grown children.